CHICAGO — The old saw “money can’t buy happiness” apparently holds true when it comes to work.
Highly paid professionals like doctors and lawyers didn’t make the cut when researchers set out to find the most satisfied workers.
Clergy ranked tops in both job satisfaction and general happiness, according to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
Physical therapists and firefighters were second- and third-ranked in job satisfaction, with more than three-quarters reporting being “very satisfied.”
Other occupations in which more than 60 percent said they were very satisfied included teachers, painters and sculptors, psychologists and authors.
“The most satisfying jobs are mostly professions, especially those involving caring for, teaching and protecting others and creative pursuits,” said Tom W. Smith, director of NORC’s General Social Survey, a poll supported by the National Science Foundation.
The worker satisfaction study, released Tuesday, is based on data collected since 1988 on more than 27,500 randomly selected people.
For the most satisfied workers, intrinsic rewards are key, the study suggests.
“They’re doing work they’re very proud of, helping people,” Smith said.
Clergy ranked by far the most satisfied and the most generally happy of 198 occupations.
Eighty-seven percent of clergy said they were “very satisfied” with their work, compared with an average 47 percent for all workers. Sixty-seven percent reported being “very happy,” compared with an average 33 percent for all workers.
Jackson Carroll, Williams professor emeritus of religion and society at Duke Divinity School, found similarly high satisfaction when he studied Protestant and Catholic clergy, despite relatively modest salaries and long hours.
“They look at their occupation as a calling,” Carroll said. “A pastor does get called on to enter into some of the deepest moments of a person’s life, celebrating a birth and sitting with people at times of illness or death. There’s a lot of fulfillment.”
Satisfaction generally rises with social status, and higher status often goes hand in hand with higher pay, Smith said. An exception is doctors, a high-paying profession that ranked No. 1 in occupational prestige. General practitioners earn more than twice as much as physical therapists, for instance, averaging $140,370 annually compared with $65,350, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet doctors scored lower in satisfaction and happiness.
Peter Eupierre, 55, an internal medicine physician who practices in Melrose Park, Ill., had eight patients in his waiting room and three in examining rooms Tuesday afternoon.
“I think most doctors are satisfied; the problem is we have so much pressure,” he said. “The demand for time is such, we are always behind and sometimes it can be pretty stressful.
Occupations with the least satisfied and happy workers tended to be low-skill manual and service jobs, Smith found.
Roofers, waiters and laborers ranked at the bottom in job satisfaction, with as few as one in five reporting they were very satisfied.
Bartenders, known for listening to other people’s troubles, apparently need sympathetic ears: Only 26 percent said they were very satisfied.